Leave a Comment · Posted on March 5, 2018
We are delighted to announce the results of our inaugural Young Writers’ Competition!
Open to young writers aged 14 to 25 across the South Yorkshire region, the competition spanned short story, flash fiction and poetry. We were amazed to receive a whopping 250+ entries – for this our first ever competition – that got young writers scribbling from the near and far reaches of Sheffield, Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham, and everywhere in between!
Novelist, Kate Long, and poet, Catherine Ayres, described judging the competition as ‘a delight and a pleasure’, and both relished commenting on each of the winners and those commended.
If you entered the competition, and weren’t placed in the below list, don’t be disheartened. Keep writing! We’re looking forward to hearing from you again next time.
14-17 Age Category (with judges’ comments)
1st: Mourning by Lauren Hollingsworth Smith: ‘A beautiful poem, which describes the bittersweet pang of passing time.’
2rd: The Boxer by Lauren Stockley: ‘Superbly realistic dialogue and control over mood.’
3rd: Daffodils by Abby Jessop: ‘A hymn to childhood trust, incredibly moving and with terrific use of detail.’
Highly Commended 14-17 (in no set order):
Last Notes by Maya Knight: ‘This moving poem slips through time and loss in a subtle, startling way.’
Inspiration by Ellie Wright: ‘A clever evocation of a muse that put me in mind of Ted Hughes’ The Thought Fox.’
Justice by Tim Pikin: ‘Powerful, masterly build-up of drama.’
Memories by Ella Cudmore: ‘Superb control of mood and structure.’
My Shadow is Looming by Lucy Kelly: ‘A terrifically chilling voice; a genuinely unsettling story.’
The Visitor by Caitlin Hardware: ‘A strong sense of fear, vulnerability and pathos.’
Welcome to Rapture by Harry Bickerton: ‘A creepy dystopia, so convincingly drawn.’
Commended 14-17 (in no set order):
Asylum by Isabelle Osborne: ‘A mounting sense of dread and tension until the final hysterical moments.’
Cold Case by Jay Lindley: ‘So neatly done; a study in cool prose.’
The Day the Moon Whispered in our Ears by Rose Holmshaw: ‘A surreal, dark, apocalyptic vision.’
Adam Street by Georgie Woodhead: ‘Fantastic attention to detail and some surprising and unique imagery in this mysterious poem.’
The Field Mouse by Lauren Hollingsworth-Smith: ‘A delightful and refreshing comic voice.’
Whisper in the Wind by Ellie-Mae Britton: ‘A terrific opening line – one of the best I’ve read!’
moon [uncritically examined] by Ben Horton: ‘Unique and startling imagery in this poem, which really made me see the moon differently: “Bold and bright and unashamed, despite the acne” is wonderful!
18-21 Age Category (with judges’ comments)
1st: Losing by Amy King: ‘The beautifully-timed, casual tone of this poem charts all the little things that make a love story. It’s incredibly moving.’
2nd: The Same Bruises by L Worthy: ‘A very moving tale of family bonds and of unexpected salvation.’
3rd: Mornings by Louisa Rhodes: ‘An assured use of metaphor and simile to describe the depth of the ordinary in this clever poem.’
Highly Commended (in no set order):
Mother Knows Best by Katharine Swindells: ‘A dose of magical realism that becomes a dark fable on the theme of patriarchy.’
Unsettled In by Louisa Rhodes: ‘An intriguing story that feels like the first episode of something longer.’
Youth by Louisa Rhodes: ‘A bold and confident vision of a grim future.’
Commended (in no set order):
Five Things about the Curtains by Maia Mchugh: ‘The title alone deserves a mention! The curtains in this poem are used to describe a life, and I loved that.’
Reflections by Rachel Irving: ‘Well-crafted and memorable imagery in this startling poem about physical and metaphorical reflections.’
The Hitchhiker by Katharine Swindells: ‘A poignant tale of human loneliness.
Natalia by L Worthy: ‘A marvellously powerful sense of place.’
The Glass City by Maya Dodsworth: ‘dream-like and disturbing in the way it shifts between two worlds.’
Grandma’s House by James Sunderland: ‘A heart-warming tale of family ties and the strength we gain from ordinary, everyday love.’
22-25 Age Category (with judges’ comments)
1st place winner: Bathing Suit by Jordan O’Shea: ‘Here’s a writer with total control over the music of language, crafting a story of aching loss.’
2nd: listen, right, we know that look by Katherine Henderson: ‘I loved the tone of this poem and the reversal of power it described. It really stayed with me after I’d read it and I kept coming back to it.’
3rd: Like Home by Lois Cuckson: ‘A touching, tender and quirky romance, beautifully explored.’
Highly Commended (in no set order):
Home By Sarah Jane O’Hare: ‘You can read this poem on many levels and it contains some beautiful imagery “You are the stars wrapped in skin”.’
The Drip by Jack Nuttgens: ‘Extremely clever social commentary, written in an entirely believable voice.’
Waiting without Direction by Hannah Thorpe: ‘Hugely atmospheric, almost haunting in its mood.’
The Tear Jerkers by Jack Nuttgens: ‘Almost painful comedy, and brilliantly observed, offbeat characters. Wonderful!’
The Walk Home by Ellie Jones: ‘I loved the change in this poem and the description of the secret, after-school life of a girl.’
Both judges chose Bathing Suit by Jordan O’Shea, as the overall winner of a Kindle Fire HD! ‘One of the best things I’ve read for a long time. I think the author is extremely talented.’ Catherine Ayres.
1st, 2nd & 3rd place winners will receive writers’ kits/goodie bags. As an option, all winners will also receive a free read/edit support and the opportunity to be published in Hive’s forthcoming anthology. Highly commended entries with also be offered a free read/feedback and a writing related treat.
Big thanks to: Our judges Catherine Ayres & Kate Long, the photographers who allowed us to use their images as writing inspiration, and also thanks to the wonderful Reading Agency for book donations to contribute to prizes. Also thanks to Jemma Fisher, High Storrs School Sheffield, Ashley Meakin, Wickersley School Rotherham and Amy Harkins, Horizon School Barnsley and Helen Daly, Kalk Balk School, Barnsley, for taking the time to send student entries.
Catherine Ayres is a poet and teacher from Northumberland. Her poetry collection ‘Amazon’ was published in 2016 by Indigo Dreams. She has been published in many print and online magazines. In 2015 she came third in the Hippocrates Prize and in 2016 she won the Elbow Room Poetry Prize. She teaches English and is about to start a PhD in Creative Writing at Northumbria University. (Photo: Phil Punton Photography)
Short story/Flash fiction
Kate Long is the author of eight novels, including Sunday Times number one bestseller The Bad Mother’s Handbook, which she also adapted for ITV. Her stories have been read on Radio 4, and she has written for national newspapers and magazines such as the Telegraph and Good Housekeeping. She runs regular writing workshops for young people in the West Midlands.
Leave a Comment · Posted on February 13, 2018
Just a heads up that we are about to start planning a big young writers day for Saturday 14th April. We’re talking 150 young writers under one roof enjoying workshops, panel discussions & advice sessions with a wide range of practicing writers and industry professionals. Get information on publishing, progression routes and writing careers. South Yorkshire young writers’ festivals have previously attracted young writers from across the North. The day is a one-stop-shop for all things writing, a chance to network, meet like- minded young writers, perform & of course, write!
If you run a young writers’ group in the North, get in touch as we’d love to have your group at the festival.
More info coming soon. Watch this space!
And here’s a blast from the past in the form of the very first Young Writers Festival in Sheffield in 2010, run by Signposts:
Leave a Comment · Posted on February 1, 2018
The lovely staff at Sheffield Hallam University welcome Hive young writers to appropriate writing masterclasses at the uni, and what could be more appropriate than a talk by young adult novelist, Annabel Pitcher!?
Annabel’s first novel, My Sister Lives on the Mantel Piece, (which she wrote while on her honeymoon – it was an extended one!), bagged her a two book deal. It’s been translated into over twenty languages and the film rights have recently been sold.
Annabel is now on her 5th novel, and with that comes a huge amount of wisdom that she was generous enough to share in very candid detail, from the letter that got her her agent, to the lies she felt she had to tell to move forward as a writer. SHU degree students and 5 slightly late and flustered Rotherham and Sheffield young writers were riveted by her story and advice.
“I tried to copy other writers and it was never right but this felt like my thing. I didn’t worry about if it was sellable, or there was a gap in the market for it, or if it was the right thing to be writing. I just felt I had to tell this story.”
Advice from Annabel:
Young writer thoughts on the talk:
Maya: I loved that it was very honest. I was interested in how she doesn’t plan in a conventional way. What she does is thematic planning (which feels a lot more creative).
Jade: I really liked what she was saying about getting a character’s voice to lead rather than coming up with a plot, and that being more important, the character being in the story and making decisions inside it.
Molly: I liked that she mentioned it’s really hard work to write a book and not always as much flow as people think it is. But she sees writing as a reward and that’s a great way of looking at it.
Lauren: I really like how horrible she made writing seem! It was more realistic because sometimes we think it’s going to be all perfect and it’s the worst, and it was a reminder of that, but that it’s worth it. She really broke down some barriers and ideas about authors being perfect and even though she was talking about difficulties, it made it feel very possible to write a book.
Mia: I loved how honest she was, and about how you’d think an author had to be really organised and she was completely different and her writing was just… all in the moment.
Young writer, Lauren Hollingsworth will be interviewing Annabel soon for her Arts Award in Writing. If you’re a young writer with a question for Annabel, drop us a line by 1st March and we’ll see if we can squeeze it in!
Big thank you to Harriet Tarlo & colleagues in the English department at Sheffield Hallam University who continue to support Hive and young writers in the region.
Leave a Comment · Posted on January 31, 2018
In December 2017, I was lucky enough to go on a writing retreat in the far reaches of West Yorkshire. A place unfamiliar to me that would be my home for the next week. Arvon was like another world. Here’s a little about my experience and why other young writers might consider an Arvon course in the future.
Arvon are known as the leading UK charity for retreat and residential writing courses. And as I’d previously taken part in a city Arvon and got a lot out of it, I knew this course: Fire in the Flint, being more specific to some of my writing interests, while being immersive, was something I wanted to experience.
The retreat, led by Jacob Sam La rose and Amanda Dalton, was unique in that it combined both performance and teaching, (both of which I want to develop in), and so I was thrilled to learn that I was selected for a bursary scheme to get on the course.
I was looking forward to staying in a big beautiful country house and the opportunity to write in a focused environment whilst soaking in the scenery views. This after all, is essentially what Arvon is about. Knowing that the house previously belonged to Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath added a relevant history of the place and set the tone for the week.
It was all a bit eerie and dark when I arrived down the narrow lane to Lumb Bank, so I couldn’t really get my bearings. On the first morning, the peeling back of my curtains was greatly anticipated and the view did not disappoint – Lumb Bank was back dropped by a dramatically breathtaking valley.
At the centre, I felt part of a privileged elite who had a passcode to this massive house and was made welcome by all the friendly staff. I was surprised by how well stocked the kitchen was! They even had almond butter! I had my first taste of Molasses (by recommendation of one of my peers). And let’s just say it’s an acquired taste (one I don’t possess).
The house is remote with no TVs (even in the bedrooms), which shocked me a little at first. But knowing that the spirit of Arvon is to get away from distractions, I took a vow to boycott social media. I found this easier than expected and even when I slipped up and found myself scrolling down a timeline, it was distinctly less satisfying than at home.
I expected a group of younger writers, but I found myself to be one of the youngest there. It was comforting to see the familiar face of Sarah, a member of The Writing Squad, who I knew from a previous writing residency. Our status as writers varied widely – some already had careers in writing and directing, others were studying creative writing at university. We even had two women from a radio station in Manchester. What we all had in common, aside from a passion for writing, is being from the North of England.
We were privileged to have tutors whose focus are in different forms of writing. Each’s work is extensive and inspirational. Both Jacob and Amanda actively listened and accommodated our various needs. They offered us the option in workshops to focus more on either poetry or script-writing. I valued the opportunity to explore both. They also gave us the choice of having workshops assigned to facilitation, or writing.
There was a lot packed into the week, between workshops in the mornings, tutorials and performances in the evenings, the course was intense. But whilst there was structure, we still had the freedom to do what we wanted and many of us went for walks into the woodland, or to the nearby shops at Hebden Bridge, a quirky place with only one chain shop in the whole town – Co-op.
I personally found myself waking early to write my morning pages. I committed to them every day, and even though we had an early start for workshops, I sacrificed the extra sleep to write. This is a discipline that I’ve since continued.
Arvon courses are always going to be intense. After all, it is grouping together random people, having us live and work together, granted like-minded individuals, but strangers nevertheless. I personally struggled with social anxiety. It effected my confidence a lot. And I found it difficult to bond with my peers because of these difficulties. There was one occasion where we had to create a workshop exercise in pairs and I struggled to perform well in front of the group. I think the break from my usual routines meant having to deal with myself in a different way. I couldn’t, for example, distract myself and escape using social media. I found this difficult and overwhelming.
I also felt something that I often feel when I go to places that aren’t traditionally working class spaces – like I didn’t belong. And looking around the group, my cultural baggage was further compounded by being one of the only woman of color, from a working class background there.
I know the creative sector has a long way to go to bridge the gap and foster a truly inclusive culture, where voices from diverse backgrounds are more widely published and celebrated, but hats off to Arvon for doing a great job at facilitating writers with mental health issues with sensitivity, and in reaching out to enable a wider group of people – as mentioned before, I received a bursary to attend the course via Hive and without it, I wouldn’t have been able to apply.
#Learning & gratitude
I am grateful for the tutors’ encouragement, the bursary which promotes inclusivity, and the overall journey I went on. Both tutors, were incredibly supportive, approachable and generous with their time (often running over in tutorials where needed). I found it helpful talking about my issues with them and on a positive note, I thought of an interesting theme to explore in my writing, the idea of ‘occupying space’.
I also appreciated all of the brilliant and diverse exercises that I will borrow from for my own workshops in the future. Before this course, I’d mostly experienced being an attendee at workshops, so when Jacob and Amanda would get us to question, as facilitators, how we can take an exercise further, this offered valuable insight, which has better equipped me to lead workshops of my own.
Overall, I feel validated that I’m on the right path. The feedback on my work was heartening, such as Amanda’s thoughts on my novel’s dialogue, also her advice on not falling into modes of procrastination, such as busying myself with editing bits of work I already have and putting off writing new pieces. You can either make a whole table in your first draft, and polish it after, or if you keep stopping to polish the table top – you’ll be left with only a top and not the whole table! This is something I now implement in my writing practice. And also Jacob’s recommendation of the book ‘The War on Art’ and our conversations on how to decode poetry further, through noting the imagery in a poem.
Lastly, I learnt that workshop facilitation is a self-employed profession (for the most part), and I must keep in mind that that means networking to get my services known and to gain more experience.
Although I struggled on some levels, the fact that I continue to pursue these opportunities, speaks of my resilience. I’m only more certain in my ambition to becoming a writer. One whose voice will be celebrated as a proud working class, woman of color.
Leave a Comment · Posted on January 20, 2018
Satdee Poetry is a monthly poetry group for young people 16 to 25 yrs from across Sheffield, Rotherham, Doncaster & Barnsley (who do not attend another Hive group in South Yorkshire)
All interests & abilities welcome.
FREE | Next sessions: 17th March
Where: Sheffield Hallam Uni (5 minutes from Sheffield train station, Howard Street, central building)
Write poems, read poems, enjoy poems, get ideas and be inspired by others who buzz off the same thing in a relaxed atmosphere. All abilities and levels welcome. This is a once a month Saturday workshop to keep you in your creative groove!
Interested? Email Kate@hivesouthyorkshire.com to put your name down, and get directions to where it’s at!
Sessions are FREE to encourage young people to travel from across South Yorkshire to attend. If travel costs are an issue, let us know.
I really look forward to these sessions!” Vertaa Lune
Leave a Comment · Posted on November 30, 2017
Young Poets Writers’ Day: Putting together a pamphlet submission
Saturday 3rd Feb 2018 – 10.30 to 4.30pm at The Poetry Business, Sheffield
Application deadline: Midnight Monday 15th January 2018
Are you a young poet in South Yorkshire, between the ages of 17 and 24?
Do you have a number of strong poems that you’d like to shape into a pamphlet submission for the New Poets Prize, but feel unsure how to go about it?
Hive have teamed up with purveyors of fine contemporary poetry, The Poetry Business, to offer a writing and editing day for young poets in the region at a stage where they would like to take their poetry further. This is an exciting opportunity to help you shape a body of work and receive expert advice and tutoring from poet and co-director of The Poetry Business, Peter Sansom. The intensive day will involve looking a previous pamphlets, discussing existing poems, and writing new work. You’ll be given an introduction to The Poetry Business and tips on strengthening and building on a potential pamphlet submission.
Participants will receive a free Poetry Business Pamphlet in the run up which they will be asked to read to feedback on as part of the day’s activities.
For more about the New Poets Award (deadline 1st March 2018), click here.
Cost: The day costs just £6 included refreshments (but not lunch), and a free Poetry Business Pamphlet worth £5. This fee can be reduced or waived if it is in any way a barrier. Places limited.
Who can apply?
You must be between 17 to 24 years of age on 1st March 2018 (the deadline for the New Poets Prize), and living, or with a parental home address, in South Yorkshire. (If that’s not you, but you live elsewhere in the North and are interested in this kind of opportunity, do get in touch anyway, in case we can signpost you to futher opportunities in future.)
We are always keen to hear from young writers from diverse backgrounds, and those who feel they wouldn’t normally access this kind of opportunity. If you are unsure whether you’re at a stage where you’re ready to apply, drop Vicky a line to discuss, at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Send 5 to 7 of your best poems of any length (in one word document), each starting a new page, with a statement of interest on the first page – no longer than 400 words, including why you would like to be considered for this opportunity, your experience of poetry so far, any writing aspirations you’d like to share, and anything else you’re like us to know.
Send your application to email@example.com by midnight 15th January 2018
The Poetry Business publishes books, pamphlets and audio under the Smith/Doorstop imprint, and new imprint The New Poets List. They also publish literary magazine The North, and run Writing Days, the Writing School, and the original Book and Pamphlet Competition.
Peter Sansom is a poet and tutor, and co-directs the Poetry Business along with his wife, the poet Ann Sansom. He has published six books of poetry include On the Pennine Way (Littlewood, 1988) and Careful What You Wish For (Carcanet, 2015). He is also the author of the influential book, Writing Poems (Bloodaxe 1994). Peter co-edits The North Magazine and Smith/Doorstop Books. His poetry commissions include work for The Guardian, The Observer, Radio Three, and a billboard in the centre of Lancaster.
Leave a Comment · Posted on January 6, 2018
It’s our last evening in at Lumb Bank – 16 young writers on an Arvon writing residential we will never forget. Its dusk and outside the window the swooping valley is cast in shadow as the sun lowers on the horizon. The door to the kitchen is closed where a band of young writers laugh and joke as they cook. I’m sat in the dining room where endless writers, accomplished and unknown, have sat over many years. To my left sits Peter Sansom, veteran poet, editor and co-director of The Poetry Business, sipping a mug of tea. It feels surreal. Having been taught by him for 4 days now, I have so many questions I want to ask. Luckily, he’s all ears, smiles and, as expected, some great insights and advice about poetry.
How/when did your journey with poetry begin?
At school, because I had an English teacher who asked us to write a poem about autumn. So I wrote a poem, and it had the word ‘knife’ in it somewhere, and he thought it said ‘rifle’ because he couldn’t read my handwriting! And he thought “ooo, that’s an interesting image!”
I’m from a working-class background. I was lucky being at school when the comprehensive system was just coming in because there were a lot of breaks and good things happening. It seemed to me a level playing field, writing poems. You didn’t have to be brilliant to write poems.
Did your family and your parents encourage you writing poetry or was it self-fuelled?
I remember taking my O Level form home to say which ones I was doing. It said ‘English – O,’ ‘English Language – O,’ ‘French – O,’ ‘Geography – O,’ and my mum thought I’d got zero in everything! She just said, “oh, you didn’t do very well this year.” She wasn’t surprised or angry. I was the youngest in the family and very spoilt. My brother couldn’t read or write and I’m the only one in the family ever to have gotten qualifications, so they kind of encouraged me, but not specifically in poetry. When I was 16, I just thought, “I’m gonna be a poet.”
In the beginning, who really helped you to become that poet?
Well, in my generation, there were ‘the Liverpool poets’, and a bestselling book of 3 poets: Brian Hatton, Adrien Henry, and Roger McGuff. They wrote about working class things, and they did it in a really down-to-earth, non-academic way. I think that got a lot of people into poetry. And then there were the people like Ted Hughes knocking about that you felt, “oh yeah, it’s OK if you do this.” But most was when I went to college.
I went to the dreaming spires of Huddersfield polytechnic and there was a poet there called Stanley Cook – quite a brilliant man. His poetry is full of real detail, stuff from everyday life. It’s quite wonderful. He wrote to me – I was one of his students, and he was editor of a magazine called Poetry Nottingham. I was Nottingham Poet number 1! As in, my pamphlet was the first one he chose and published. That was what did it really, Stanley Cook! When I’d done that pamphlet, another publisher saw it and said, “These look like good poems, would you like to do a book with us?” So, I did a book about walking the Pennine Way, and then another publisher saw that and said, “When you think you’re ready, let my publisher know – let us see a manuscript.”
I said to my editor one “It’s quite hard to get published.” He said, “Not if you’re any good.”
Do you believe that higher education, for example an MA in creative writing, is a necessary step in pursuing a career in poetry?
God, no! On the contrary, I would say.
So is that more of, like, a passion project for people to inspire them to write?
I enjoyed the MA that I taught on – it was really an MA in poetry. But if you’re asking if people should do MA, I think yeah, why not? Because with an MA you get guidance – the support that you get, the writing exercises, the workshops, the direction, the impetus. You have to write because you have a workshop next week, you can’t just think you have other things to do. You can indulge yourself a bit if you do an MA.
What would you say inspires your poetry the most?
Family, probably, and friends.
Recently, there’s been more social media poetry entering the stream. Do you think that could potentially be detrimental to the poetry industry, or do you think we should embrace it?
What do you think?
I personally think we should embrace it. It’s just growth on old foundations. The old poetry hasn’t gone away to die, there’s just also a new side to it. Publishing, as well, is a lot easier, especially with social media, so I think it can open a lot of doors for people.
Like the Arctic Monkeys, you mean? Not that they’re poets.
Yeah, sure. There’s a lot of poets that I read that have been able to publish their work because they were scouted off Tumblr etc. So, would you agree with that? Or do you think it could be detrimental?
I think that if everything is available in the ‘poetry supermarket,’ then everything has a cut price. But I don’t have any argument with it. I do think it’s a good thing.
Have you noticed an obvious change in poems since the introduction of the internet?
They’re shorter. I like short poems.
Has the poetry business changed at all?
The means of production has changed. When we started the poetry magazine in 1986, poetry still seemed to have to do with London, and down south. Barnsley poet, Ian McMillan said, “You don’t get any vests or settees in poems.” And then you did. That’s partly a consequence of Bloodaxe Books starting, and the impact that they had on other publishers, including the people who publish me. They had to change their game because of Bloodaxe. There are a lot more working class and northern poets now than there were before.
When I first started, there was no such thing as writing exercises, even though there was Arvon – people just got together and didn’t really do writing exercises. It’s become a kind of factory, now. But that didn’t exist, which is amazing to me. I think it has still got a certain value, which it always had. Poetry has never had much commercial value, but it’s had kudos.
When I worked for Prudential as a company poet, every month I had to go to Reading, Stirling, Belfast, Bristol, and Paddington in London. They’d always put me up in hotels. In London, sometimes a hotel with a suite! Which, you know, was lost on me – I’m not interested! My wife would have loved it. But they did it because I was a poet, and I think people still feel that way about poets. But it’s more egalitarian now – anybody feels they can be a poet, whereas at one time you had to do something or other to be admitted.
You run The North magazine. What do you look for in terms of submissions, and what advice would you give to someone who was wanting to submit their work?
I think the first thing is, you have to be in it to win it. We almost never publish poems by people who don’t send us their work. It’s not always the case, but mostly. Sometimes we’ll ask people, but mostly if we’re not sent it, we won’t publish it. That’s where a lot of people fall down. They submit to us once or twice, and – even if we respond with something encouraging – they don’t send anything again, because they’ve been rejected. If you think in terms of it taking 6 or 8 goes before you get published, send the same poem off that many times. Look at your work with your friends and think – what would an editor be put off by?
It is, to a certain extent, horses for courses. If you send it to the wrong magazine, then, you know, you’re stuck. We always say, Anne Sansom (Co-director) and I, that we prefer to have poems by people we don’t know. Not that we haven’t met them, but that if we’ve got the same poet in 2 issues, we try not to have them in a third issue, because as a reader you’re thinking, “It’s always the same poet!” The trouble is, if you accept somebody, they might think, “They love my poems, I’ll send them some more.” And that has happened with somebody before, where we had them for the last 3 issues – we couldn’t have them again. But they sent us some more poems, and they were really good, and really different to the others, so we published those as well! It’s hard.
Then there are other people who you know you’re never going to publish, in conscience. Sometimes we think we should write to them and say, you know – have you considered taking up painting? Or, have you thought of this other magazine? And sometimes we do do that. If someone’s poems are really good, but they’re not for us. They’d fit here or here – why don’t you try them with it? Ted Hughes said that he wrote 3 different kinds of poems, and that if he put different names on them, people would never guess it was the same man. I’d be loathed to say to somebody – We’re never going to publish you, because they might eventually send something that we like. Also, I think it’s true that we’re different – editors, like everybody, are different at different times of day.
What advice would you give to a young writer who is just starting to submit their work? What should they put in a cover letter, how many poems should they include, etc.?
Don’t send more than 6. Don’t send fewer than 3. Because if you just send 1, and the editor doesn’t like it very much, or there’s something about it but it’s not quite right, it’s a bit frustrating really. Also, it looks a bit precious. Don’t send more than 6 because you just get tired. 6 is plenty. Covering letters are nice, I think, just give a couple of sentences. Ian McMillan, when we were just starting out, used to say, “just put: here are some poems. All the best, Ian McMillan.” So I was published as Ian McMillan for years!
You mentioned before about rejection, and how people don’t like being rejected. Do you think that it’s easier to deal with as you progress in your poetry – getting rejected more and more? Or do you think people still find it difficult?
No, I don’t think it does get easier, and I don’t think it happens that much. Once you get to a certain stage – in my experience and my friends’ experiences – the same magazines will take our work and ask us for work. It’s very rare, actually, for me to send work to somewhere that I don’t know.
Do you think that they see your name and don’t read it, almost, because they know the quality of your work?
I think there are certainly some magazines where they see my name and reject it straight away! I think with young people getting published, they always say to read the magazines. But my best advice is this: People will say, sometimes, that they won’t send it to big magazines because they think they’ve got to work their way up to them. But I feel that you send to little magazines, small circulation magazines, cheaply produced, perhaps, online magazines that don’t have much audience, if you like the stuff in them, if you’re excited by what they publish, then you must send them there. Otherwise, you must send to the top ones that are going to lift your profile, for 2 reasons: one is if you send to a middling magazine that’s only got a small circulation, and people won’t be reading it because they don’t trust it, then you’ve wasted your work; and the second thing is, often editors don’t know what they’re doing, and they’ll reject you.
Anne Sansom sent some poems to a magazine who rejected her. The guy is a really nice chap, but he felt he had to write a reply to everybody that entered. It was too much for him, so he sometimes said things he didn’t mean. And he seemed to be saying to Anne, “I don’t like these poems, because you don’t seem to be a very nice person.” I’m sure it’s not what he meant, but it’s how he came across. She was so annoyed. She sent them to The Time literary supplement, and they accepted them all, and the TLS was at that time, and still is, very well thought of, and they paid a lot of money. So what she could have done is thought, “they’re no good, these poems.” But instead she thought, “I don’t think that editor’s read them properly, so in the spirit of annoyance, I’ll send them to the TLS.”
So it is worth sending out to the right places and – if you’re not sure – why not go for the best known? And the ones that are going to reply quite quickly. One of the good things about poetry is that there’s a lot of good feeling – people read magazines wanting to be enthused by a new writer, and if you are good, if you’ve got something about you, I think other people will see it. You’ll be noticed in magazines and people will talk about you. It’s very grassroots, poetry. Though, after a point, it does become a bit of a Hollywood thing – there’s only room for a certain number of stars. And once you’ve got that status, you don’t have to do anything else.
What would you say is the best piece of poetry advice that you’ve ever heard that’s stayed with you?
I always quote Hunter Davis, the great biographer of The Beatles, Alfred Wainwright, and Wayne Rooney. And he said, “don’t get it right, get it written.” There’s some sense in that, though you can also get it right.
The other thing is, don’t waste your time. I wasted a lot of time writing quite poor things, not knowing what I was doing. The equivalent, really, to sitting in front of a piano and not having lessons, and not listening to other music. Philip Larkin said you don’t study poems, you read them, and you think, “what has it done? Can I do it?”
Who would you say are your favourite poets and what are your favourite poems?
Stanley Cook. I like Stanley Cook’s poems very much, because they’re about Doncaster and South Yorkshire and Sheffield, and they’re about real things. But they’re also numinous, they have this kind of visionary element to them. He’s quite a big-minded man, I think, but he works from the local. There’s a lot of interesting imagery, and he’s quite witty. He says things like, “and he was a little man you could have kept in a cupboard.”
I like John Keats. If you get past the language of the time – which is old fashioned – you can see that the poems are still alive.
When I’m writing, I go back to certain poets. Elizabeth Bishop, Stanley Cook, Simon Armitage, and some early Carol Anne Duffy poems. When I started, Carol Anne had just published, and we had known each other a long time. I’ve known Simon Armitage a long time, and I often think I wish I’d worked slightly differently. One thing I think they did was to work out what poems did and what they needed to do in relation to it, and I didn’t do that. I was more interested in other things. But you can only do that to a certain extent – you can only do what you are. That’s the great thing about poems, isn’t it? Everybody is so different!
There’s John Hegley, who did a book called Glad to Wear Glasses – he’s a stand-up comic of a poet, really. And you’ve got Ian MacMillan who is unclassifiable – who is he?! He’s a kind of modernist, funny man. And then you’ve got what has become the mainstream, with Armitage and Duffy and so on, and then you’ve got these really weird guys, and the thing is, they’re just themselves. Even when they’re quite inaccessible poems, there’s something about them that makes people want to read them. That’s what you want, isn’t it? You don’t think, “How do I write a hit single?” You just write something, and when they hear it on the radio they think, “God, I want to get that!”
And finally, what advice would you give to young aspiring poets?
I think the most important thing is being open to experience. There’s an Armitage poem I usually use: It Ain’t What You Do, It’s What It Does to You. Just experience things, and then try and get the means, the wherewithal, to put that into language.
I wasted a lot of time reading poets who I never really got the hang of. I read the wrong poets, I think. Poets that weren’t helping me, and I think it’s much easier now to find poets that are available, and that give you the tools to say what you want to say. The trouble is, you can’t say it for other people.
Read widely, but read what you enjoy. Learn bits of poems by heart. When you read widely, you kind of skim poems. You don’t get changed by them. You are changed as a person by imbibing – making poems a part of yourself. By learning not the whole thing, but little bits.
Elizabeth Bishop said that she often feels distressed after spending months on a poem, and in the end she had to abandon it because it just wouldn’t work, whatever she did with it. But what she realised is doing the work on that poem meant that she got a free gift with a different poem just to write quite easily.
Another thing is, don’t expect people to come to you. I thought if I wrote brilliant poems, people would come and seek me out. But they don’t! It’s an amazing thing! Sometimes, it’s just enough to be in the right place at the right time and be the kind of person that people want to encourage. So try and be that kind of person.
Thank you, Peter, for taking the time to talk to me, and for your amazing answers.
Interview: Olivia Woodcock, 17 (Rotherham Young Writers)
Note: Peter Sansom with be running the following young poets (17 to 24), ‘How to put together a poetry pamphlet’ day on sat 3rd Feb at The Poetry Buisness in Sheffield in conjunction with Hive. Details here.
Leave a Comment · Posted on December 1, 2017
What could be a more ideal opportunity to interview a writer you admire than during a Hive week away at the amazing Arvon Lumb Bank Writing Centre, when said writer is one of your tutors for the week? I was lucky enough to do just that with the wonderful novelist, Tiffany Murray. Interview: Georgie Woodhead, 14
Did you always know you wanted to be a writer from a young age? And if not what was your dream before being a writer?
I only came to writing in my mid 20’s. I was in New York doing a PHD in Comparative Literature so it was all very academic and I started writing about home. But actually, if I look back, the thing I remember most about primary school – every afternoon we wrote stories in little books and we could draw things and I’ve still got those books and they’re absolutely mad. They’re about witches in trees and flying dogs. I always remember this one story that was put on the school radio, which I’m sure didn’t get far, but it was about this band called The Dirty Donkeys that were basically a bunch of donkeys who created this rock band, and all these things happened and I just loved it. So it must have always been there I think. For a while I trained to be an actress so maybe that took care of my creativity for a while. I started my first novel when I was in New York.
Before you started taking writing seriously, what did you think you would end up doing and how did that pan out?
I thought I was going to be an actor. I did English and Drama at University. I spent about three years in London, after graduating, being an actress. And of course it was great but I knew really that my heart wasn’t in it. Well, my heart was in it, but I think my success was not, and I think that the low point for me was, I was working in my eyes as a tour guide at a place called the Museum of Moving Image on the South Bank, which I think is still there, where basically you had to dress up like a 1930’s usher in a cinema, or a Victorian woman giving a lantern display. I just thought we were tour guides, so would come into the place in the morning to change into a costume, and other people there who were probably about thirty years older than me would say ‘we’re getting into character’. And I just thought: ‘I don’t want to do this when I’m 50. Basically, I think it was me being not dedicated to that craft, and maybe if I had kept at it, it would have been okay. But I went to America instead, which was considerably a very lucky thing.
Did you, or do you, share your ideas for books with friends and family, or do you find writing as very private?
Very private. My friends and family only read either the final draft or literally the copy edit, which is the draft that comes back from the publishers. It’s already been through copy editing with a copy editor after the main editor, so it’s really late. I find that if I talk things through too much that I kill them. You don’t quite know what it is yet, so you’ve got to keep it special and safe I think.
Also, I think you can worried, if you speak your ideas out then you’re always going to think they sound stupid. I find that if you keep them in your head, then they tend to grow more.
Yes. Definitely. Because you’re nurturing them, and there’s nothing worse than saying something and someone else says, ‘Well, I mean, I’m sure I’d do it a different way, surely your character should do this…’
Do you find it easy to plan out your work, or do you start with an idea and see where it goes?
No, I don’t plan. At all.
You are the first writer who has ever actually said that to me!
Yeah, but I think the other ones might be lying. But, maybe they’re not, maybe they’re just very good planners. But no, I don’t plan at all. Just character and place. That’s all you need, I think.
Have you ever lost faith in your writing, and if so, how did you get yourself back on track?
Constantly. And I think a lot of people get that. I mean, that’s just the nature of writing, because it takes so long, it’s hard to be in love with something that’s not created yet, but takes so long to be created. The way to get out of it, I find, is to travel. I know maybe that’s a little bit like tourist fiction, but, for instance I’m going on a residency in Iceland this summer for a month and I applied for it because I know that my next book is set in Iceland so I thought, well, I’m very lucky that I got it and it may sound glamorous and lovely but it’s also about living on your own for four weeks in the middle of blinking nowhere with nothing around you. You have to suffer a bit to get through it, but I think that’s the thing that brings you back, when you’re just alone with it, basically. You don’t have your lovely dog to hug or your husband to cook you dinner. So it’s nice to just take yourself off and say, no, it’s just between me and the page. It’s a very privileged position as well, I have to underline that.
So would you say that just sitting at the same desk every day and writing with the same surroundings would be a way to kill an idea?
No. Because that is something that I think you have to do, whereas I’m talking from a place where I’m about to embark on my fifth novel. I have three published, and the first that I ever wrote, still in the draw, and will always stay in the draw, I hope. And so I need to find devices at this stage, to get myself enthusiastic again. Maybe other writers don’t need that, but I definitely do, I think. So that’s what I’m doing. Because also you find when you write a novel, you stop living. And I was doing that for so many years that now I want to start living and writing. It would be a nice combination.
Is there anything you can tell me about the novel in the draw?
Oh God. Yes. It’s the ‘a typical first novel’, in that it is not my voice at all, or what I’ve come to see as my voice. It’s terribly serious and about terrible things that happen to terrible people. There are bits of it that I love, still. It’s called Fancy Dancing with Elvis. So there’s a bit about people who are obsessed with Elvis Presley as well. It got that, what I thought my voice should be, out of my system. My second novel, which became my first published novel, Happy Accidents, also has a lot of serious things that are happening in it, but it’s in an approachable way, and funny and a little bit weird rather than really serious all the time.
So it was like a training novel?
Yes. Exactly. And I think some authors don’t admit to it, that they have the silent puppet that says ‘I don’t want to go back in the box!’, but I think most of us do, we do. Some authors are very lucky, in that they can resurrect it later on in their career and do something with it, but I know I would never. It will always be the novel in the draw.
Do you find that you take the editing process in your stride, and how do you feel about getting rid of, occasionally, some of your favourite phrases?
The most important thing is to really try and be brave. You’ve got to get rid of those favourite clusters of phrases, and things that just don’t serve the narrative. My thing is always, ‘if it wasn’t there would I miss it?’ Which I don’t always do, I mean there are a lot of bits in my novels that, if they weren’t there, the narrative would still make sense, but you’ve still got to have your voice. I think you’ve got to be ruthless, but not too ruthless. You can’t ruin it. There’s that ghastly phrase ‘kill your darlings’, but I think you’ve still got to let your darlings be your darlings and let them play, because otherwise, you know, there’s nothing there that says it’s yours. I think that as soon as you’re reading something that’s sort of boring you a little bit, then just get rid of it, or something that’s repetitive, it’s just all those normal things. And certainly, if you have an editor who edits ruthlessly and you don’t agree with it, then stand your ground. You have to. But also at the same time, if you really respect them as an editor, absolutely listen to them. It’s a tight rope thing.
I think you’ve already sort of touched on this. How do you feel about letting other people take control of your work?
I think if they’re professionals, great. Literally you’re desperate for it by the time you have drafted and edited your own work. If somebody is a professional, then you just love it. And if they’re your editor, then it’s marvellous. So, my agent will read it over and then my editor will, and any feedback I get, because I’ve been with them for such a long time – brilliant. My husband – he’s a great copy editor, so he reads it in the last stages as well. He’ll say, ‘Well why is she wearing a pink cardigan here when then she has on a bikini?’ Obviously I’m exaggerating, but he’s basically the continuity person, which is important, it really is, and editors and copy editors don’t always pick up on those things. In general, you’ve got to beware of people giving their opinion on your work too soon. And I think reading groups are fantastic, but again, you’ve got to be wary and you can’t take everybody’s opinion on. If you look at those various Amazon-type reviews, some people will just absolutely hate a book, and the next person will love it. That’s just human nature. So that’s why when you’re at that sort of stage of it nearly being a thing you can’t take all that on. And once it’s published it’s not yours, it’s somebody else’s, so they can think what they like about it.
I know that your second book ‘Diamond Star Halo’ is really closely linked to your childhood and musical background. Do you prefer your writing to be very close to your experiences, or do you prefer doing something very far away from what you know?
Well, I don’t know yet. That’s the short answer to that one. Because, with my four novels, I have these four stories that I suppose just happened to be in the area that I grew up in. I love reading writers who play on the same notes, my background is in, you know, Caribbean literature so I like reading writers who come from a certain island and they write about that and they go back to it, or American writers like Sherman Alexi, Tony Morrison, and they kind of riff on the same thing, and I love that. And I don’t see anything unglamorous or any problem with riffing on the Welsh border, in my example. So that’s what I’ve done with all of my four books. But now, I’d quite like a departure, so that’s what I’m going to find out in Iceland this summer. Maybe while I’m there and I’ll start writing about Wales.
Do you see writing as more of a hobby got big or a job?
It’s never been a hobby, as in, for me it’s never been something that I’m just tinkering with. It’s always been, well not always, but when I came to it and I started writing, in my late twenty’s, just a part of who I am now. Absolutely, I lose faith. Completely. Because novels take so long, and it’s such a huge commitment every time, and everything’s so tenuous, and agents, editors and all the business side of this is such a nightmare. Not editors and agents – they’re lovely. But you know, you can’t survive on what you make as a writer, really. So sometimes, yes, it’s very hard to balance writing with making a living. So that’s why it’s lovely to do weeks at Arvon, because you are here as a writer, and you’re with other writers, and you’re talking about writing, and you’re reading other work that inspires you, so it’s great.
The books I’ve read of yours are incredibly musical. Has your musical background influenced you style of writing?
It definitely has. I wasn’t really aware of it until I started hanging out with poets at Arvon, who always used to say, ‘your prose is really poetic’ or ‘rhythmical’ or whatever. But I suppose I knew it anyway because the way that I edit is reading out loud, and if it doesn’t sound right, if it doesn’t have a certain rhythm to it, then it has to be changed. So it’s all to do with the way it sounds.
My father was a musician and he tried to teach me the guitar, and I couldn’t have been less interested. So I don’t know how to play any musical instruments, and yet I’ve just always been surrounded by music so maybe that was just kind of ingrained in me. And as a reader, when I read books that could have amazing plots and all these amazing things are happening and fantastic characters, but if they sound dull, I just can’t even bring myself to read them.
You said, strong characters are the basis to any story. Do you find that when you come up with these characters, they based primarily on people you know or come across, or are they entirely new people within themselves?
I think they’re entirely new people in themselves, but to me they certainly don’t come fully formed. So they start off, never as an amalgamation or based on people I know, but they might be. In Diamond Star Halo, the character Jenny in the book is referred to as a sort of young Sissy Spacek. I thought of her as a red-headed like in those adverts you got a lot in the early 80’s with Laura Ashley – so this beautiful, skinny little freckly girl with long, red hair, but she doesn’t know she’s beautiful, and she’s a bit gawky and geeky, and her arms are too long. So that’s who I imagined, but then of course, she becomes something completely different. And you never really know, well I don’t anyway, what my characters really look like – I just have an impression of them. And maybe that’s a good thing maybe it’s not. I prefer reading books that leave it up to the reader. I mean you think about a book like Jane Eyre where you just know that Jane is plain and small, and that’s enough.
Do you have a process for creating characters or is it just that you come up with a loose form and then you tweak it and change it until it works?
I think it’s a process of growing, most of all, like a sea monkey in water, and it is a case of drafting as well. You add more things to it and it becomes more sensual as it goes on. You begin to understand how they see and interpret the world. For me, anyway.
Would you say that it’s good to start with short stories and then work onto novels?
I can only speak from experience, and so for me, certainly, because I didn’t know how to sustain any kind of story when I started, or how to express any sort of moment of life. So it’s far more manageable to try and deal with a short story, even though short stories, really good short stories, look at any master like Alice Monroe, they are the harder art form. But if you’re starting, then it’s good to start with something finite, that you can try and manage. And then it’s easier to put them in places so you can say ‘Oh look, I’ve done that’ and ‘I got second prize in blah.’ Whereas with a novel you’re committing God knows how many years of your life to something that you don’t know what it is yet.
You also need to practice how to end things, because otherwise, you never do it.
Absolutely. And also it’s that gut feeling, that if you practice and practice, and it’s about having a structure, that you can work in, that can discipline you, that can challenge you.
What’s the best piece of writing advice that stayed with you up to now?
Read. It’s such an obvious thing to say. And sometimes, I think, when you’re writing all the time, you sort of forget to read, so you’ve got to make time for it. Sometimes you think ‘Oh I don’t have time for that,’ but you’ve got to.
Do you think it’s more important to read the classics, or more contemporary stuff?
Well, I think in an ideal world a few classics and a few contemporaries, but for me, I don’t think I’d be a writer without an early teen background in Victorian literature. Because that’s the era of the novel you know. And also they’re fantastic. And I think people who dismiss nineteenth century British literature are silly. What I’m guilty of being though, is a dreadful, dreadful nostalgic re-reader. I will prefer to re-read a book, than read a new one, so that’s something that I need to stop. There are so many books to read.
Any more advice for young writers in general?
Believe that only you can write what you’re writing in the moment now. You have your own personal writing DNA, nobody else can write like you. You have an individual voice, and you own it. So try and get over that barrier of ‘Oh, it’s not very good’ or ‘Oh no, it’s not like this.’ Of course it’s not like this, because it’s like you. It’s like your voice, and that is something you have over me, over everybody else, that fresh, new voice. And that’s a glorious thing. So embrace how powerful that is, I think. I mean this week at Arvon has been fantastic, and you are all amazing writers, so in order, I think, for you to go on and jump over those hurdles that are there that you could just kick down so easily, just get over the feeling insecure. I know it’s such an easy thing for me to say, really, and so hard to do, but, you know, believe in your own writing DNA. Definitely.
Thank you so much for sharing your writing and advice!
Leave a Comment · Posted on November 14, 2017
In August and October 2017, Hive supported young spoken word poet, Dominic Heslop with Slam Barz – a supportive South Yorkshire wide event for young first time and emerging urban lyricists and rappers (aged 14 to 25) to come and show their skills through an open mic or by competing in a Slam Barz 2017 challenge. Both events were buzzing with talent including the support of local grime and hip hop artists including Northside Media, GMF, Otis Mensah and Scumfam.
“The competitive element of Slam Barz is not so much about the competition as it is about getting young people to rise to a creative challenge and write about their lives and issues and things that matter to them.” Dominic Heslop aka The Devoted1
The winners of Slam Barz 2017…
Fionn McCloskey – winner of Endz
Hassan Ahmed – winner of Freestyle
Ali Hosin – winners of Letter to self
Sidney Dawson – runner up Letter to self
Johnny Albrow – runner up of Freestyle
Omz – runner up of Endz
Prizes: Studio time, vouchers & T-shirts
If you’re a young MC/rapper/urban lyricist in South Yorkshire, get in touch to let us know your interests and we’ll keep you posted on future happenings.
Thanks to all who came, shared, supported and took part including Salma Lynch, Xanthe Palmer and Warda Yassin. Here’s to Slam Barz 2018!
Slam Barz was supported by Off the Shelf Festival of Words, Maxine Greaves at Sheffield Hallam University, and Abdullah Okud – BME representative SHSU & Northside Media
Leave a Comment · Posted on October 27, 2017
We are excited to say, our first young poet’s anthology is here and available to buy! A wonderful gift for poetry and plant lovers and a snip at £4.50!
Wild poetry brings together poetry written by young people (aged from 14 to 25) in celebration of the beauty, mystery and importance of native UK wild plants, flowers, trees and fungi. The poems have been written in response to everything from creative prompts and research (from folklore to biological information), to personal connections, and observing nature up close.
The limited edition book contains 54 poems across 70 pages, with accompanying botanical and historical information for 45 species of flowers, plants, trees and fungi.
Katharine Towers, author of The Remedies:
Painter Georgia O’Keeffe said: “We don’t really notice flowers; they are so small and we are so busy.” The poems in this anthology provide a thrilling counter-blast, bringing us up-close and personal with wild flowers and with feisty weeds defying the urban concrete, with endangered species mourning their kin, and with the first plant to have its genome sequenced.
Entirely modern, and compelling in the boldness and freshness of their language, these are poems that startle and demand to be attended to. Even more remarkable, perhaps, is to find young poets using their close encounters with plants, trees and fungi to ask complex questions about language and to find them somehow answered.
Buying Wild Poetry
You can buy Wild Poetry in Sheffield at the wonderful All Good Stuff at Butcher Works on Arundel Street. Or if you can’t get to the shop, we can deliver by post. You can pay by internet bank transfer or Paypal.
If by post, drop us a line to firstname.lastname@example.org with: 1) the amount you’d like 2) how you’d like to pay (Paypal or bank transfer). We’ll get back promptly confirming the amount with details of how to pay.
1 copy £5 + £1.50 pp (total £6.50)
(If you’d like to purchase more copies, do contact us for a price)
Why is it so cheap you might ask? Because we want it to be accessible to everyone, and young and old. Proceeds go back into the project.
Wild Poetry is a Get Creative Grow Wild UK project devised by young poet Eloise Unerman from Rotherham Young Writers with support from Hive South Yorkshire. Wild Poetry is a limited edition, not for profit publication.